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Is the Film Music industry over-saturated with composers?

Hello,

I'm a full time professional musician with almost 20 years of experience with a lot of dabbling in composition and arranging. I've taken film scoring classes, have done some of my own projects, and now I'd like to take on a short film or video project of some kind. Maybe I don't know where to look, but I've been having trouble finding any director looking for a composer. Is this because there are so many people doing it? Or directors already have people on call they know and have worked with already? How does someone go about getting some real experience in the industry? Would appreciate any insight.

Thanks!
Ryan McGeorge

  • Competition is insane - I had a call to my personal mobile tracked down by a composer's agent after a paragraph announcement that we were in preproduction in Variety (and preproduction isn't when we're worrying about score!), and got used to getting spec CD's from 20 or so composers on a different project where news had obviously got out. I don't know how to solve that, but just in case it's helpful.

    6 months ago
    • Wow, thanks Paddy! This is eye opening... Can I ask you what you think makes a good spec CD?

      6 months ago
    • @Ryan McGeorge Obviously CD's are a little passé but I would look at creating a series of short reels of score matching screen action. The easiest way to imagine a score in your film is to see a score in a similar film, so a rom-com with whimsical jokey music or an battle scene with something energetic. But goodness me it's hard getting attention when there's so much competition, and I've no idea how you get noticed. I suppose being able to refer to your other scored films on imdb, and showing any awards you've won will help. We can be surprisingly risk-averse and conservative, so knowing we're not the ones taking a risk, but that other people have taken a risk with you previously and it paid off...

      But so much of it is about timing as well - preproduction isn't the right time (way too much else going on), so probably the first few days of wrap is prime - director is likely got through the exhaustion of it all and editor is putting the assembly together, so director could start looking at new creative aspects like score. How do you know when a production is wrapping? I have no idea, probably asking around, maybe make friends with some runners and AD's and soundies and find out on the downlow?

      6 months ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin Thanks again Paddy, this is really great info!

      6 months ago
  • Hey Ryan! I can confirm Paddy's comment on how big the competition is. From a director's and producer's perspective it seems very competitive. There are so many people wanting to score a film. I had my contact details on IMDBPro and I didn't even have any projects in development and still received a few emails by composers. I get the most emails and messages through networking sites from actors and composers, but I'd say even more composers than actors! So, the best way to get noticed in my opinion is to have a showreel with scenes that you scored for (it could even be a movie or show that you scored as practice) as I always remember the people who scored a fitting music for a scene. It's also vital to network and go to some film events, get contacts and just message people with your showreels on sites like these. I'm not sure if there is any other way. There will be someone out there looking for talented composers. Also, to your point, a lot of filmmakers already have a composer they like to work with because it is hard to find someone that you like, so when a director found someone they tend to stick with them.

    6 months ago
  • Just to put things into a broader context, it's not only composers who might find themselves in an over saturated market. Just about every other role in film and television is over saturated too.

    The further education system has been churning out graduates at a rate of thousands to every job available for years. On top of that are the thousands more who enter the arena without bothering to go to school, relying on innate talent, opportunity or the accomplishments of wealth.

    The lack of jobs has created a constant supply of mostly young media entrepreneurs attempting to forge their own businesses. The availability of affordable user friendly technology for all and any part of most projects is why the tumble weeds are blowing through so much of the old establishment.

    One needs to be excellent, determined, well networked, rich, entrepreneurially creative and/ or lucky. One needs two or more of those blessings to have a good chance. Perhaps it can all be distilled down to creative originality in all areas as being the best recipe. Usually to be formed within a tight ensemble of people who get on with each other.

    It's definitely a business where nothing succeeds like success. So getting those credits is essential. That's why getting those first credits and real world experience is so often done for little or no pay.

    It's often said, particularly of the business of the business, that the harder one works the luckier one gets. It's also true of the smarter one works.

    6 months ago
    • > It's definitely a business where nothing succeeds like success. So getting those credits is essential. That's why getting those first credits and real world experience is so often done for little or no pay.<

      >It's often said, particularly of the business of the business, that the harder one works the luckier one gets. It's also true of the smarter one works.<

      Indeed. The most successful people I know in the business made it happen despite the odds through sheer stubbornness and creating opportunities for credits. And things are a lot easier for me to point to my imdb credits (which are actually only about 20% complete!). "Oh, I guess I can take this guy seriously at least" kind of thing, even though I'm a complete chancer as you all know ;-)

      6 months ago
  • Hi Ryan,
    It doesn't sound to me as though you are necessarily asking how to make a career as a film composer - but simply that you'd like to try your hand at doing it, having done lots of other things.
    These are two different things. As the others above have said, it's hard to the point of impossibility for most people to actually make a career solely scoring films. Consider the recent Spitfire / Westworld competition - 11,000 entries...
    But in terms of having a go at it. There are plenty of ways. Find a nice arty commercial on Youtube (perfume, spirits, etc), download it, strip out the soundtrack, and put your own on. I did this a bit when I was getting started and shared the results (probably naughty). Funnily enough some of that led to actual paid work! And I ended up with my music on real adverts. Woohoo.
    Or find someone (go to festivals, events, etc, anything in-person is what you have to do, hard these days...) who wants to have a crack at directing a film, or at being a DOP, etc, and team up with them: for fun and learning. I've done quite a few things with people who wanted to learn how to do something - e.g. actors wanting to practise and make something for their show reel, one-man film-makers, etc, you just get together and make a short film.
    48 hour film contests are a great place to do this. E.g. I joined 2 random teams of strangers (who advertised on SP, I think) at the last London 48 hour project as composer, one of them never really got started, but the other only went and won the whole thing. So that was nice.
    At least you'll have some fun (hopefully) and then find out if it's something you want to devote a lot of time, money, and energy to try and make a near-impossible career out of.
    You could also consider a route such as being a runner on set, just be nice and friendly and helpful and above all punctual, and suddenly you will have some good contacts... You will need to work for nothing or next to nothing for a good while, so it is essential to have something to fall back on.
    Hope that helps. There is no silver bullet. And it's probably all even harder post-covid.
    Cheers!
    Tim

    6 months ago
    • Thanks Tim! You are correct, at this point I just really enjoy it and want to see where it goes. This is all great advice, especially about going to events in person. Are there any festivals or events you like that are particularly good for networking? Thanks for all the comments!
      Best,
      Ryan

      6 months ago
  • Hey Ryan, this is slightly tangential on the networking front, but the Sundance institute is currently offering some of it's masterclasses for free, some of which relate to music for film. They also have live webinars, which can be a great resource for meeting other folks interested in film making. Check out: collab.sundance.org/learn/master-classes...
    I'd also recommend joining the Perspective group on Facebook as a great resource for just about everything film music related. www.facebook.com/groups/556877397821248...

    Hope this helps, and good luck!
    Cheers,

    Julian

    6 months ago
  • There are a lot of composers out there for sure. But what I have found, is that the highly driven, passionate people who are willing to work hard, sacrifice and be a constant learner will succeed! I was fortunate enough to see over 100 placements of my music on TV in 2019 from my home studio. Not because I am amazing, and there is no competition, but because I treat my music like a business and I am constantly doing everything I can to learn, grow and get better. I discovered many years ago that my biggest competition is not other composers, it's my own self doubt and bad habits! .. persist and never give up!!! If you want to do it, go for it. Just be prepared to work!

    5 months ago
  • Brian is spot on. Composers need to treat the work as a business. Production placements can be a great source of income, even in a competitive market. Yes, it's nice to score film and tv etc. but like any business, its about networking; people buy from people. I have a big issue with a) composers that work for free (devalues the industry) and b) film makers that are willing to export composers (those times when all the crew are getting paid but there is no money for music and no opportunity for the composer to earn any royalties etc.) - that said, I have done projects for little or no fee but I have always been in a position where a licence is issued, cue lists are completed and filed and royalties received and that can work quite well.

    5 months ago
  • I agree with all that's been said here but would add one more thing. I'm constantly getting emails from composers offering me their skills and showreel links. 9 times out of 10, they haven't watched any of my work and they've also not researched who to contact. I just get a "hello" and some times even "Dear Mr Cooper". The email is rarely personalised in any way, often badly presented too. A few minutes' research will help your approach.

    5 months ago
  • It's definitely a saturated industry, but I think it's mainly saturated by composers trying to achieve the same style.
    This is probably as cliche as it can be, but I truly believe that the most important thing you can do is to put together a reel that shows your voice and it's different from most composers. I had never thought I could be a composer because I wasn't really into orchestral music and I thought that would be a dealbreaker. Turns out I started getting calls BECAUSE I didn't do orchestral music and because I did it with my own voice. And I'm definitely not better than 99.9% of the composers out there, but if that 99% is trying to achieve the same Zimmer/Desplat/Williams soundalikes, then you REALLY have to be better (and cheaper) than that 99% to get noticed. If you are different you can just coast it! (well, not quite...)
    Clearly I'm not saying to give up orchestral music if that's what you are into, but even when asked to make it sound like X/Y/Z, try to suggest something that is different but still serves the story. That might place you into a niche category, but it's niche category where you are the only player.
    It's going to make it so much easier to get noticed and to approach collaborators.

    5 months ago
  • This is a very interesting discussion with some great perspectives (though all highlighting the high level of competition). Andreas's contribution is golden - many composers aim to sound like the big names and get lost in the crowds - whereas it's finding your unique voice that helps composers stand out.

    I'm a relatively young composer and recently felt the time was right to launch a website and demo reel, as I've built up a few credits now. They are very useful promotional tools, but now I have the task of marketing myself, and in particular, finding the right people to contact and network with - hence my interest in some of the posts above! My demo reel is quite varied, which I believe is a good thing, however down the line it may be a good idea to develop multiple themed demo reels to showcase genres separately.

    5 months ago
  • Superb discussion - lots to think about. And more still to do!

    5 months ago
  • At another level most of the above answers show that soundtrack is not one of the first things a company thinks about. But we should all take on board that its not just about the story, characters and pictures. Sound makes a film. Watch almost any clip you like without the sound track, and suddenly the sinister becomes ordinary, the exciting common place and the emotions minimal. Sound is very important, and finding the right composer and sound-scaper can be essential, and hard to do if you have a specific style in mind. I'm about to listen to your show tracks to see if you might be what I need.

    5 months ago
  • You need to forget all the rules. Sound distinctive and get a good agent but more than ever never get discouraged by competition. Score anything to get started there are also a lot of lousy composers too All the best William williamcamilleri.com

    5 months ago
  • Im no one and I get an email everyweek from a composer asking to work with me - so the field is crowded. But isnt evey field in filmaking?

    4 months ago